How does breastfeeding affect the course of multiple sclerosis?

Updated: Aug 20, 2019
  • Author: Carmel Armon, MD, MSc, MHS; Chief Editor: Stephen A Berman, MD, PhD, MBA  more...
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Breastfeeding does not appear to have a notable effect on the activity of MS. However, it does lower the incidences of infantile illnesses, which suggests that it confers some protection on the infant. This finding potentially supports the consideration of breastfeeding and the delay of immunomodulating therapy until breastfeeding is stopped in patients with MS. These potential benefits should be weighed against the risks of delaying treatment on a case-by-case basis.

In a questionnaire-based retrospective study that evaluated the onset of MS, relapse frequency, and breastfeeding in 438 women, half of the patients breastfed their children for a mean of 6.3 months, but the relapse rate in the breastfeeding group was not significantly different from that in the control subjects. [48]

In addition, the mean time to relapse was not delayed with breastfeeding; in fact, 69% of relapses in the breastfeeding group occurred while the patient was still breastfeeding. [48] The study data suggested that breastfeeding did not extend the protective effects of pregnancy on exacerbations of MS.

Indeed, Vukusic et al reported that women who chose to breastfeed had fewer relapses than other women did. [47] However, the investigators also found that the women who chose to breastfeed had relatively mild disease. Conversely, women with active disease (and additional relapses) chose not to breastfeed.

In a study that assessed the incidence of various infantile illnesses at age 6, 9, and 12 months in the children of 140 breastfeeding mothers and 35 nonbreastfeeding mothers, the infants who were not breastfed had significantly higher incidences of otitis media, lower respiratory tract illnesses, constipation, milk intolerance, and allergies. [49]

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